The genes encoding virulence-associated proteins and the capsule of Streptococcus pneumoniae are upregulated and differentially expressed in vivo

Microbiology (Reading). 2002 Jul;148(Pt 7):2045-2053. doi: 10.1099/00221287-148-7-2045.


The polysaccharide capsule of Streptococcus pneumoniae and several well-characterized virulence proteins are known to contribute to the pathogenesis of pneumococcal disease. However, there is a paucity of data on the expression of their respective genes in vivo. In this study, the relative abundance of the mRNA transcripts of the genes encoding pneumolysin (ply), pneumococcal surface protein A (pspA), pneumococcal surface antigen A (psaA) and choline-binding protein A (cbpA), and of the first gene of the capsular polysaccharide biosynthesis locus (cps2A), was measured in virulent type 2 pneumococci harvested from the blood of BALB/c mice at 12 h and 24 h following intraperitoneal infection. The mRNA levels were then compared, using relative quantitative RT-PCR, with those present in organisms grown in serum broth. The expression of ply was upregulated threefold at 12 h, and 10-fold at 24 h post-infection; the expression of pspA and psaA was upregulated threefold and fivefold, respectively, at 12 h post-infection. Interestingly, the expression of pspA was 36-fold higher at 24 h post-infection whereas the expression of cps2A was upregulated approximately fourfold at 12 and 24 h post-infection. However, cbpA mRNA levels remained comparable in vivo and in vitro. When organisms were grown in whole blood or THY broth, the relative expression of these genes in the two growth media also differed markedly. This work provides direct molecular evidence that known virulence-associated genes of S. pneumoniae are differentially expressed in vivo. Data on the relative expression of these genes in different growth media also suggests that the regulation of expression of these genes is highly complex and multifactorial.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Capsules / genetics*
  • Bacterial Capsules / metabolism*
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics*
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism*
  • Culture Media
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Pneumococcal Infections / microbiology
  • RNA, Bacterial / analysis
  • RNA, Bacterial / isolation & purification
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae / genetics
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae / metabolism
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae / pathogenicity*
  • Streptolysins / genetics
  • Streptolysins / metabolism
  • Virulence / genetics


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Culture Media
  • Membrane Proteins
  • RNA, Bacterial
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Streptolysins
  • plY protein, Streptococcus pneumoniae